Where history is made, Bernard Kernot

Between Worlds: Early Exchanges Between Maori and Europeans 1773-1815
Anne Salmond
ISBN 0 67087787 5

The publication in 1991 of Salmond’s Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772 marked a major re-interpretation of first contacts between Maori and Europeans. It began with Tasman’s brief visit of 1642 and ended with the trauma attending the visit of the Mascarin and the death of its commander Marion Dufresne. Between Worlds: Early Exchanges Between Maori and Europeans 1773-1815 is its sequel and carries the project a stage further in exploring the range and quality of subsequent contacts in early pre-colonial New Zealand.

Salmond’s thesis in Two Worlds was that contact between local people and visiting ships was mediated through preconceived cultural perceptions, leading her to develop what she called “mirror image ethnography”. In an introductory passage in Two Worlds, Salmond complained that modern histories of these meetings were still being told from a European perspective only: “Europeans are depicted as being in charge of the drama, the explorers are the heroes, while Maori people either sit as passive spectators or act anonymously behind cloaks and tattooed masks.” Such a view, she insisted, distorts the reality of both parties being active participants. Salmond saw her task as interpreting these encounters so that both perspectives were visible for all to see. That remains her task in the present volume.

Between Worlds picks up the historical narrative with Cook’s second expedition into the Pacific, and meticulously details the encounters and exchanges between local Maori and the (mainly) European foreigners up to the establishment of the Church Missionary Society mission at Rangihoua in 1815. This is a huge undertaking.

The book divides into three Parts, each Part being built round a theme on which Salmond bases her analysis and interpretation. Part 1 is concerned with alternative systems of knowledge and covers the scientific voyages of Cook’s last two expeditions as well as those of Malaspina and D’Entrecasteaux. Part 2 takes up the theme of alternative systems of exchange and law, and describes the early commercial voyagers in New Zealand, the founding of penal colonies in Australia and Norfolk Island, and Maori exploration of the world on European vessels. Part 3 traces the beginnings of Christian evangelisation of the Maori and the contrasting systems of belief.

The thematic approach is central to her objective, which is to interpret how each party understood these encounters, and how understanding between the parties developed over time. This is hermeneutical anthropology. The metaphors by which we define our realities are culturally specific, but precisely because they are metaphors it is possible that with experience we can renegotiate meanings and redefine realities. This approach shifts the focus from the ethno-historical facts, important and interesting as they are, to the metaphors themselves and the interpretation of meaning. Thus the epistemological metaphors by which 18th century science understood and represented reality contrasted sharply with Maori metaphors of reality, leading to misunderstanding, misinterpretation, often resulting in conflict, but with experience allowing some new negotiation of meaning to occur, some middle ground to open up between the two parties.

Reality for the scientist was a metaphorical “territory”, a cosmic continuum to be systematically measured, gridded, described, classified, recorded and collected, and ultimately bought under the control of reason: “Emergent modern science was preoccupied with achieving dominion over nature, in its human and non-human guises.” Science focussed on objectivity, and sought to bring nature under the control of mind, whereas the Maori system was focussed on reciprocity (utu), in a universe that began with a surge of cosmic energy and in which creation unfolds as a cosmic genealogy or whakapapa.

In their encounters Maori and Europeans were following different logical trajectories. Maoris are represented as binding their visitors into their genealogical network in which reciprocity was the governing ethic, whereas the Europeans believed they were dealing with “savages” located within the metaphorical Great Chain of Being. Little wonder that distrust, misunderstandings and episodes of violence attended the transactions between the two parties, particularly the killing and eating of ten of the crew of the Adventure.

Yet, as Salmond demonstrates, transactions could be negotiated successfully. The scientists safely explored the flora and fauna of Queen Charlotte Sound and measured the stars. Maori traded provisions for iron, tools, and clothes, the sailors traded for sex. Eventually two local youths, Weherua and Koa, joined Cook’s company and sailed to Tahiti, where they settled and later died. Salmond argues that however different science and whakapapa were as alternative ways of knowing, they nevertheless had a sufficient degree of commensurability to facilitate some learning and understanding, some mutual respect and “a variety of possible futures”. This is exactly the space between the two worlds of Europe and the Maori that Between Worlds postulates and explores. As in the earlier volume, she again employs a Maori metaphor to illuminate the nature of her project. The space between these worlds resembles te pae, “that edge or horizon between earth and sky, worlds of light and darkness – where people and ancestor gods enter into exchanges that separate and bind them. The pae is a place of action, where history is made.”

While science brought a few ships to these coasts, commerce brought hundreds, trading for flax and timber, and hunting seals and whales. Part 2, the largest section, considers utu, law and commerce as alternative systems of exchange and law. The establishment of penal colonies at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island had much to do with the development of trade round the New Zealand coast, and made European culture much more readily accessible to Maori travellers. The pursuit of commerce brought Maori and European into much closer contact than the scientific voyages did, widening the space between the two worlds.

Salmond finds the rationale for imperial expansion and commerce in the Enlightenment contrast between the state of civilisation and the “state of nature”. Civilisation was seen as flowing from civil government and the sovereign state, and Europeans, as bearers of civilisation, believed they were conferring benefits on savages in entering into commercial relations with them, appropriating their lands and bringing them into production.

Maori had their own system of exchange, and refused to see themselves as the inferiors of Europeans. Utu, the principle of balanced reciprocity, falls across the domains of both European law and commercial exchanges. The life force or vitality of living things, the hau, was involved in all exchange transactions, whether of gifts or insults. Serious attacks that threatened the hau of the group required reciprocal action that might include the whaangai hau rite, or cannibalism, beliefs Salmond asserts that explain the eating of the crews of the Adventure at Grass Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound and the Boyd in Whangaroa Harbour.

The harshness of European punishment appalled the Maori, whether the shipboard floggings they witnessed, or incarceration and hangings that they had ample opportunity to observe in the penal colonies of Norfolk Island and New South Wales. Similarly the Maori reputation as cannibals loomed large in European consciousness in the 18th and 19th centuries. Salmond compares it as a form of redress for wrongdoing with the extreme violence of punishment and judicial tenure prevalent in Europe in the 18th century. European abhorrence of cannibalism, she argues, may derive less from its violence than its “appalling intimacy”. Judgement and punishment in Europe, administered separately, were directed at separating criminals from citizens, in hulks, gaols, galleys and in death. Cannibalism brought offender and offended together in ritual eating thereby destroying the tapu of the offender; such a strategy was beyond the Europeans’ understanding of human nature.

In the tangle of encounters and exchanges that trade and commerce generated, both parties risked much. In the Maori world crossing boundaries (whakapae) was understood as physically and spiritually dangerous: “Power lived in liminal places.” Negotiating cultural boundaries was risky but rewarding if successfully managed. Maori risked assaults on mana, ill-treatment by European captains, contracting venereal disease or dying beyond the reach of kinsmen. In doing so, they discovered new technologies, new languages and new ways of being.

Europeans crossed boundaries in pursuit of wealth, adventure or to escape from penal servitude. They risked attack, being eaten, or being ostracised by their own kind. In all of this, important and enduring cross-cultural alliances were forged that transformed lives on both sides and moved the participants to reappraise received orthodoxies and arrive at a new awareness of the “other”.

The religious cosmologies of Europe and New Zealand within the context of the beginnings of missionary activity constitute the theme of the third Part. Tapu or cosmic power, the source of all creation and of cosmic order, was at the heart of the Maori universe. On the other hand Salmond represents the missionary cosmos as that presented in Genesis, creation by divine fiat, and God creating the world by splitting its parts into binary sets. In the Maori version “each form of life came together with another to make something new in a network of genealogical connection”.

The ethnography here deals exhaustively with Marsden’s interest in New Zealand, his meetings with visiting chiefs and especially his friendship with Ruatara, and the founding of the mission at Rangihoua. Much is made of the drama surrounding the death of Ruatara within weeks of his return to New Zealand, when missionary and tohunga competed for control of the event. The crux of this contest revolves around alternative and contrasting ways of understanding the self, whether as “a named set of links in the network of exchange relations” or as an autonomous being with a soul to be saved, and between the absolutism of the missionaries’ “truth” and the implied relativism of Maori reciprocal relationships.

Part 3 is the least satisfactory section of Between Worlds. Salmond writes authoritatively when dealing with Maori cosmologies. She is less convincing when representing Western cosmologies, which would appear to this reviewer to have been more complex than she suggests. How universal was the Great Chain of Being as an explanatory device, for example? A Christian cosmology is more focussed on the Incarnation and Redemption than on Creation. There is little appreciation of the theological imperatives that drove Marsden or the commanding metaphors of his reality. Genesis seems too remote to be the dominating metaphor of the missionaries’ cosmos.

And I wondered about the place of Enlightenment humanism in interpreting human behaviour in these encounters. Humanistic considerations appear to have been behind Cook’s refusal to take punitive action against Kahura, the young chief who was responsible for the killing and eating of Furneaux’s crew at Grass Cove. They were also evident in the several proclamations from New South Wales giving recognition to the rights of Maori and other South Seas Islanders. Perhaps, though, Salmond is on relatively sure ground dealing with scientific cosmologies in Part 1, since the natural scientists at least were all using Linnaean taxonomies. There was a clearer congruence between how the scientists thought and what they did than was evident for European adore in Parts 2 and 3.

The dominant and overriding metaphor throughout Between Worlds is te pae, that potent, dangerous and creative liminal space “where history is made”. Both Maori and European belonged there and it entered into their exchanges. It is a brilliant device for making visible both Maori and European perspectives in the encounters of the period. However Salmond gives it a deeper significance in a concluding reflection on cultural diversity in the modern world. She is dismissive of an Enlightenment model that carries with it “notions of irreducible values, separate, maybe incommensurable cultures, and bounded, autonomous selves” because it divides the world into discrete segments and imposes itself on others’ models. It doesn’t tolerate a space between, a pae, as Maori thinking does. The Maori cosmos, still unfolding, is generative and inclusive of new kinds of being and open to entanglements and struggle, often across cultural boundaries. Her plea is for practical and ethical attitudes that will allow other knowledges to speak. Given her view that realities are subjectively constructed and metaphorically articulated, that is a logical position, however dogmatically relativist it may be.

Splendidly produced and copiously illustrated, Between Worlds is a worthy sequel to the earlier volume. Once again, Salmond has pulled off a scholarly tour de force that contributes a distinctive and timely voice to Pacific ethno-history.

Bernard Kernot has recently retired from the Maori Studies Department of Victoria University of Wellington. Between Worlds was recently given the Best History Book Award for Australia and New Zealand in 1997.

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Posted in History, Māori, Non-fiction, Review
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